Marking Anniversaries for the Dead

September 11, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, July 4th, Presidents Day, VJ Day. Anniversaries we mark to honor the lives of our compatriots. Some survivors, millions now gone and leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my deceased father. His passing changed my life in many ways, not the least of which are anniversaries. And though he did not die in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, his passing helps me understand the losses that occurred on that tragic day. September 11 is a day of mourning because the violent and sudden deaths of thousands of Americans shocked us into redefining who we are… much like how the death of a family patriarch, matriarch, child or sibling affects survivors every single day.

This loss affects us daily, but especially on anniversaries of their life. Our memories of time spent with them are tainted; it may be with grief, loss, regret and sometimes anger. And we feel driven to make sense of it. We create an anniversary of their parting. Maybe we pray more, make a renewed dedication to our family or our personal goals, spend more time in gratitude for life, revisit the gravesite … anything that will help us fill that sense of extreme loss. September 11 will do that, too.

As I make sense of it, I go back to the image of the rebirth canal – lest the memory cripple me one more time. The rebirth canal is where, like infants in the birth canal, we are pushed by force beyond our will or comprehension into a life we do not yet comprehend. At first, it is painful, scary and it challenges every nerve fiber we own. But with good support from others, we survive.

Being a survivor is scary and challenging. The pain is mostly emotional, but it is real. If we have support, our chances of survival are good. And we can boost our chances of survival by honoring anniversaries of our rebirth with acts of support for others.

I’m not saying it is easy to get out of our emotional paralysis, the shock of losing a loved one and all the successive reminders of that loss. But great leaders before us have taught that if we are aware of the near universality of pain and if we will shed our egos from time to time to be vulnerable to the sufferings of others, we will not spend so much [anniversary] time crippled by the losses suffered in life, but on our knees in gratitude and service…creating new anniversaries marked by everlasting compassion.

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